Royal distinction and research honour for ‘founding father’ of RSM

Royal distinction and research honour for ‘founding father’ of RSM

Professor Dr Frans Van Den Bosch was honoured twice during his Valedictory Symposium and Farewell Address, on Friday 11 May at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

Dr Van Den Bosch , Professor of Management Interfaces between Organizations and Environment, partly retired this spring after a distinguished career of 28 years with RSM and 12 years with Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), a joint research institute of RSM and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE). During this time he supervised more than 30 PhD theses and published more than 200 articles and research papers. He was presented with the Civil Order of Orange-Nassau (Officier in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau), a royal medal of distinction for his contribution to society as a local and regional councillor. The award was presented by Jan Paantjens, Alderman (Wethouder) of the City of Halderberge in the Dutch province of Brabant. Dean of RSM, Steef van de Velde described Prof. Van Den Bosch as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of RSM.

In his farewell address, Prof. Van Den Bosch referred to the statement that ‘nothing is as practical as good theory’, and elaborated on ‘good’ management theory and its practical application to business and society. Management is likely to be the most valuable resource of goal-oriented organisations, but the legitimacy of managers was diminishing in the media and in public debate, he said. And if this is the case, how can a more solid theoretical foundation of management contribute as a co-ordinating mechanism for creating value for business and society?

Four scientific challenges are presented by these two questions, argued Prof. Van Den Bosch. First, a managerial perspective on research into management is required. Second, he proposed a context-neutral approach to defining the generic core activities of management. Thirdly, he suggested that the purpose of management of organisations should be defined as the creation of strategic value for society, and finally, he discussed recent discussions of the importance of management models for the creation of Strategic Value, and the problems and challenges of changing management models in organisations, otherwise known as Management Innovation.

Prof. Van Den Bosch concluded with four recommendations for everyone involved in management; researchers, practitioners, educators, and to governmental and regulatory agencies. “These agencies have to look after management models and their creation of strategic value for society. In the context of the present financial and economic crisis, Prof. Van Den Bosch recommended that these agencies must consider correcting not only the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, but also pay attention to its close connection with the ‘visible hand’ of management,” he said.

Prof. Van Den Bosch’s Valedictory Symposium earlier in the afternoon took the theme of Management Innovation: Rigor and Managerial Relevance and featured presentations from a former CEO, a former government minister, and academics from universities around the world. During the symposium, Prof. Van Den Bosch was presented with honorary membership of the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), a joint research institute of RSM and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), by Professor Dr Marno Verbeek, Professor of Finance, Scientific Director for ERIM and Dean of Research at RSM. The ERIM award is given only to researchers in management who have contributed to the reputation of ERIM, and Prof. Van Den Bosch is only the second person to receive the award since its inception.


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The symposium featured an impressive list of speakers, appearing in person and on video in front of an audience of faculty, alumni, staff and members of the business community.                                     

The symposium was chaired by Dr Henk Volberda , Professor of Strategic Management at RSM who made a plea for more research into management innovation in addition to the existing focus on pure technological innovation.  Jeroen van der Veer, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell and a member of its board of directors, spoke of his experience of innovation in leadership, reflecting on his career with Shell and lessons learned. He said there was a need for mutual trust between businesses, society and government, and observed that managers from the ‘baby boomer’ generation able to manage periods of economic growth were ‘not automatically able to manage non-growth phases’. Leadership during times like this needed more thought, and hiring consultants to deal with these phases ‘was not good for company culture,’ he said. He said that Professor Van den Bosch had made a big contribution to strengthening the relationships between the public, business and government.

Dr Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School in the UK appeared in a video message. He said Professor Van Den Bosch had brought precision to the definition of Management Innovation; what it is and how it works, and had a real interest in the process of management, rather than the science of economics. He urged Van Den Bosch to continue being a scholar in his retirement, and to stay true to ‘management matters’.

Dr Charles Baden-Fuller, Centenary Professor of Strategy and leader of the Strategy Group from Sir John Cass Business School at London’s City University in the UK reflected on the contributions of Prof. Van Den Bosch to the field of Strategic Renewal. He began by referring to the essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ by the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin, which has its origins in a poetry fragment from ancient Greece. It says that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.  Prof. Baden-Fuller described this as the ‘paradox of scholarship’. “At one level, we are hedgehogs. On the other hand, we are foxes moving over the territory,” he said. He described Prof. Van Den Bosch’s ‘insatiable curiosity’, and said one of his papers from 1983 was ‘still very topical today’, and challenged existing thinking with its rhetorical and exploratory approach. He encouraged Prof. Van Den Bosch to re-write some of his papers for new audiences to popularise his thoughts on Strategic Renewal. “He uses many levels of analysis, across many firms and with different perspectives, and pays attention to qualitative issues, a notable and rare combination of views. Frans is both fox and hedgehog!” he concluded.

Professor John Child, Emeritus Professor of Commerce at University of Birmingham Business School in the UK said in his video message that Prof. Van Den Bosch had been at the centre of the events that had turned RSM into an internationally-recognised business school and had created ERIM. “He has a 97-page CV,” said Prof. Child, a fact which was referred to several times during the afternoon’s proceedings by various speakers. “I have never seen one that is more impressive.”

Professor Dr Ed Zajac of Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University in the USA, and Guest Professor of Organisation and Management at RSM, agreed that Prof. Van Den Bosch had put RSM on the international map, and observed that Van Den Bosch’s work focused on the intersection of governance, leadership and management, three themes which Prof. Zajac explored in his presentation. He discussed the loyalty of directors and shareholders in relation to corporate governance, the importance of engagement of employees and the mobilisation of resources in relation to leadership, and the importance of common goals in effective management.

Appearing in a video message, Dr Fariborz Damanpour, Professor of Management at Rutgers Business School in the USA recommended that all management scholars should take a lead from Van Den Bosch and move from ‘an economic mind-set to a management mind-set’. He commented on the outstanding scholarly productivity of Prof. Van Den Bosch, whose focus on management innovation had brought Prof. Damanpour back to studying it over the past four years. “He’s someone you want to ‘do lunch with’, he’s fun to talk to,” Prof. Damanpour said, and told Van Den Bosch: “We had planned to do so many papers together, and now that you are retiring, we can now do that!”

Professor Dr Cees Veerman is former Minister of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries for the Dutch government, and studied economics at Erasmus University, Rotterdam with Prof. Van Den Bosch in the early 1970s. The two men are close friends, having met during their studies, and have known each other for 40 years. “We started out researching the supply of potatoes – a very down-to-earth subject,” he commented. He said Van Den Bosch’s thoughts on the core of management science related to the study of peoples’ behaviour, and were ‘philosophical and of practical influence’. They illustrated that sustainability was a crucial continuity factor. The ethical choice was to take personal responsibility for one’s conduct and contribution to the future, he said.

Prof. Veerman recommended that ethics and morals should be included in the study of management science, with managers educated to develop a critical view of structures. To ignore anything beyond the short-term was a one-dimensional view without moral scope. “Frans has contributed strongly to this field; science should contribute to a better world and management is the art of getting things done,” he said. “Rule-based approaches outsource moral decision-making, and we cannot do without responsible people.”

He made a plea for business educators to abandon abstract analysis and to use personal experience and common sense instead. He described Frans Van Den Bosch as a man with the great gifts of an analytic mind and a warm heart.

Finally, Henk Volberda gave Frans van den Bosch the first copy of the book ‘Frans van den Bosch: A view from within’, a volume of essays by his former PhD students.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University is consistently ranked amongst the top 10 business schools in Europe. It is located in the international port city of Rotterdam where core Dutch values of openness, flexibility and acceptance of diversity have attracted businesses on a global scale. Our emphasis is on ground-breaking research and practices relevant to business; our primary focus is on developing business leaders who carry their innovative ideas into a sustainable future. Our portfolio includes a broad array of bachelor, master, doctoral, MBA and executive education programmes.

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